Fair or not, Pittsburgh Penguins cannot ignore goalie controversy

At some point, you just have to throw out what should happen, what took place in the past and even the acknowledgment of dumb luck and just accept the obvious truth in front of you. The Pittsburgh Penguins are giving Marc-Andre Fleury every opportunity to succeed (and therefore take ownership of his hopeful place as the team’s No. 1 goalie) and he continues to fall short of the mark.

Is it completely fair to Fleury to blame him for an ugly 1-5 start to the season? No, not really. Every loss isn’t his fault, after all, as the team in front of him must be held accountable for each defeat as well. Still, the bottom line is that the team earned a point in every game backup Brent Johnson started (4-0-1) while only earning two points in six Fleury appearances (1-5).

Whether the team plays more responsibly for Johnson or Fleury is the victim of bad luck or tougher matchups, it’s blatantly clear that the Penguins need to ride the hot hand rather than attempting to appease their $5 million man. To be fair to Fleury, I thought I’d take a look at each goalie’s games to see if Johnson is the beneficiary of random luck more than anything else.

Inside Johnson’s numbers

@ New Jersey (Oct. 11): Johnson stopped 30 out of 31 shots for the win. Pittsburgh scored three goals.

vs. Islanders (Oct. 15): Stopped 22 out of 24 shots for the OT win. Pittsburgh scored three goals.

@ Philadelphia (Oct. 16): Stopped 29 out of 30 shots for the win. Pittsburgh scored five goals.

vs. Ottawa (Oct. 18): Stopped 32 out of 34 shots for the win. Pittsburgh scored five goals.

vs. St. Louis (Oct. 23): Stopped 23 out of 24 shots for OT loss. Pittsburgh scored zero goals.

So, overall Johnson allowed only seven goals in five games, stopping a stunning 136 out of 143 shots. The only time he lost, he did it in overtime and the Penguins didn’t give him a single goal to work with. The Penguins allow an average of 28.6 shots per game against Johnson, so it’s not like he’s getting an in-net vacation either.

Let’s compare those numbers with Fleury’s. (Warning: these numbers might get ugly.)

Inside Fleury’s numbers

vs. Philadelphia (Oct. 7): Fleury stopped 24 out of 27 shots in a loss. Pittsburgh scored two goals.

vs. Montreal (Oct. 9): Stopped 24 out of 27 shots in a loss. Pittsburgh scored two goals.

vs. Toronto (Oct. 13): Stopped 10 out of 14 shots; he was pulled from this game. Pittsburgh scored three goals.

@ Nashville (Oct. 21): Stopped 21 out of 24 shots in OT win. Pittsburgh scored four goals.

@ Tampa Bay (Oct. 27): Stopped 26 out of 30 shots in loss. Pittsburgh scored three goals.

vs. Philadelphia (Oct. 29): Stopped 21 out of 24 shots in loss. Pittsburgh scored two goals.

As you can see, it’s pretty hard to give Fleury the benefit of the doubt by simply looking at the numbers. Fleury stopped 126 out of 146 shots, allowing 20 goals in six appearances. While Johnson’s lowest single-game save percentage was 91.7, Fleury did not produce a single game with a save percentage above 90 percent this season.

On top of that, the Penguins are actually playing equal or better defense in front of him, at least from a shots allowed standpoint. (While getting pulled early from that game against Toronto might skew the numbers, the Penguins only allowed 24.33 shots per game against “MAF.”) Johnson experienced marginally better goal support this season (the team scored 16 goals in his five appearances and 16 in Fleury’s six), but hasn’t had any other obvious advantages.

Does this mean that Johnson stands as a better long-term answer than Fleury? No, not unless these trends continue. Simply put, though, their numbers are night-and-day right now. Rather than making the most comfortable decision by not upsetting their big money goalie, the Penguins should make the wise choice and see how much longer Johnson will continue this hot start.

That’s my opinion, though. What do you think the Penguins should do? Should they turn their goalie rotation into a temporary “1a/1b” situation? Do you think the Penguins should give Johnson or Fleury most of the starts? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Rangers punch playoff ticket to wrap up night of clinched spots

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The New York Rangers weren’t ecstatic that Chris Tierney‘s 4-4 goal sent their game to overtime against the San Jose Sharks, but either way, getting beyond regulation punched their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday night.

For the seventh season in a row, the Rangers are in the NHL’s postseason. They fell to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, so they haven’t locked down the first wild-card spot in the East … yet. It seems like a matter of time, however.

The Rangers have now made the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 tries, a far cry from the barren stretch when they failed to make the playoffs from 1997-98 through 2003-04 (with the lockout season punctuating the end of that incompetent era).

New York has pivoted from the John Tortorella days to the Vigneault era, and this season has been especially interesting as they reacted to a 2016 first-round loss to the Penguins by instituting a more attacking style. The Metropolitan Division’s greatness has overshadowed, to some extent, how dramatic the improvement has been.

This result seems like a tidy way to discuss Tuesday’s other events.

The drama ends up being low for the Rangers going forward, and while there might be a shortage of life-or-death playoff struggles, the battles for seeding look to be fierce.

Oilers end NHL’s longest playoff drought; Sharks, Ducks also clinch

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There’s something beautiful about the symmetry on Tuesday … unless you’re a Detroit Red Wings fan, maybe.

On the same night that the longest active NHL playoff streak ended at 25 for Detroit, the longest playoff drought concluded when the Edmonton Oilers clinched a postseason spot by beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

The Oilers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2005-06, when Chris Pronger lifted them to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

In doing so, other dominoes fell. Both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks also punched their tickets to the postseason.

The Sharks, of course, hope to exceed last season’s surprising run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks continue their run of strong regular seasons, even as memories of their Cup win start to fade into the distance. All three teams are currently vying for the Pacific Division title.

The Western Conference’s eight teams are dangerously close to being locked into place, as the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues are all close to looking down their spots as well.

Want the East perspective? Check out this summary of Tuesday’s events from the perspective of the other conference.

Craig Anderson took his blunder hard – probably too hard – in Sens loss

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Members of the Ottawa Senators were quick to defend Craig Anderson following his blunder (see above) in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s not just about his personal struggles, either. When Anderson’s managed to play, he’s been flat-out phenomenal, generating a .927 save percentage that ranks near a Vezina-type level (if he managed to play more than 35 games).

Goaltending has been a huge reason why Ottawa has at least a shot of winning the Atlantic or at least grabbing a round of home-ice advantage, so unlike certain instances where teams shield a goalie’s failures, the defenses are absolutely justified.

Anderson, on the other hand, was very hard on himself.

You have to admire Anderson for taking the blame, even if in very much “hockey player” fashion, he’s not exactly demanding the same sort of credit for his great work this season.

It’s official: Red Wings’ playoff streak ends at 25 seasons

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When we look back at the 2016-17 season for the Detroit Red Wings, it will be remembered for some sad endings.

It began without Pavel Datsyuk. We knew that their last game at Joe Louis Arena this season would be their last ever. And now we know that Joe Louis Arena won’t be home to another playoff run.

After 25 straight seasons of making the playoffs – quite often managing deep runs – the Red Wings were officially eliminated on Tuesday night. In getting this far, they enjoyed one of the greatest runs of longevity in NHL history:

Tonight revolves largely around East teams winning and teams clinching bids – the Edmonton Oilers could very well end the league’s longest playoff drought this evening – but this story is more solemn.

EA Sports tweeted out a great infographic:

“Right now it’s hard to talk about it, because you’re a big reason why it’s not continuing,” Henrik Zetterberg said in an NHL.com report absolutely worth your time.

Mike “Doc” Emrick narrated a great look back at Joe Louis Arena here: